2022 LMGTE Pro Review: Ferrari Has the Last Laugh
Daniel Lloyd reviews the last-ever FIA World Endurance Championship title battle in LMGTE Pro.
In the first of a short series of guest content on fiawec.com, Sportscar365’s Daniel Lloyd reviews the last-ever FIA World Endurance Championship title battle in LMGTE Pro.
The 10th FIA World Endurance Championship season marked the swan song of the hugely competitive and popular LMGTE Pro class. It turned out to be a fitting send-off as the factory teams from Ferrari, Porsche and Chevrolet produced an enthralling battle that saw each of the five cars take at least one race victory in a title fight that went down to the wire.
After six exciting rounds, Ferrari narrowly prevailed with Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado successfully defending their 2021 world drivers’ title and the Prancing Horse also scooping the manufacturers’ award. But Porsche’s Manthey-operated factory squad ran the AF Corse Ferrari team extremely close, with Pier Guidi and Calado beating Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen by only two points.
The other crews from both seasoned GTE-Pro competitors also stepped up their game this year and added further dimensions to the title scenario, while Nick Tandy and Tommy Milner ensured Corvette Racing was more than just an observer in the famous American team’s first full WEC season.
The campaign started brightly for Porsche as Estre and Christensen won the red flag-shortened 1000 Miles of Sebring in their No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR-19. Nick Tandy and Tommy Milner finished second sharing the No. 64 Chevrolet Corvette C8.R, but reigning champion Ferrari had a tough curtain raiser as both of its 488 GTE Evos struggled to keep up.
Ferrari was also down on pace against the other GTE-Pro teams at Spa-Francorchamps in May. The No. 92 Porsche topped all Free Practice sessions before Gianmaria Bruni took pole in the No. 91 car, eight-tenths clear of the quickest red machine.
But rainy weather on race day threw out the weekend form book and thrust Ferrari right into the mix. Both 488s moved ahead of the No. 92 Porsche by taking wet tyres under a red flag, but Christensen closed the gap as the track dried in the last hour. After dispatching Antonio Fuoco in the No. 52 Ferrari, the Dane set his sights on Calado, but the Ferrari driver held on resiliently for a surprise win.
Porsche returned to the top step of the podium at the 24 Hours of Le Mans where Bruni, Richard Lietz and Frederic Makowiecki claimed the final GTE-Pro win at the famous French race.
Makowiecki, brought in for one event, was dicing with defending winner Pier Guidi with five hours to go when the No. 51 Ferrari developed a puncture and lost ground. The Frenchman didn’t look back, taking a popular victory on home soil as Bruni and Lietz won in GTE-Pro for the first time since 2018.
The Italo-Austrian pairing also took the WEC points lead. Porsche’s No. 92 car also suffered a puncture that consigned it to fourth behind the two Ferraris. However, that setback paled in comparison to the drama experienced by Corvette Racing.
The full-season No. 64 Chevrolet Corvette was looking like a victory contender until Alexander Sims crashed heavily into the Mulsanne Straight barriers after a touch from an LMP2 car.
That ended Corvette’s hopes in an instant, after its No. 63 car dropped out earlier with mechanical troubles. The No. 64 entry’s demise would also serve a wider purpose in denting Tandy and Milner’s title hopes, considering the double points on offer at Le Mans.
One month after its disastrous double-retirement, Corvette Racing got back on the horse at Monza and beat Ferrari in the Italian manufacturer’s own stable yard.
Tandy put together a light-footed fuel run to profit when Fuoco and Miguel Molina’s leading No. 52 Ferrari needed to make a late ‘splash’ with mere minutes to go. Despite missing out on the win, Ferrari still completed the podium and Pier Guidi/Calado assumed the championship lead after a frenzied battle with the No. 92 Porsche.
A regular-season Balance of Performance adjustment between Spa and Monza helped bring Ferrari back into the mix and resulted in some heated moves between GT racing titans Pier Guidi and Estre, who dropped out of the top-three due to a penalty.
Pier Guidi and Calado then reiterated their title defence credentials by winning the 6 Hours of Fuji, which ran without Full Course Yellow or safety car interruptions. Either Ferrari could have won, but Calado brought the No. 51 home ahead of the No. 52 to increase his and Pier Guidi’s lead over the nearest Porsche pairing – now Estre and Christensen -- to 11 points.
But with more points available at the 8 Hours of Bahrain, the title was far from being sewn up.
The dramatic events of the championship-deciding race highlighted that perfectly and encapsulated all that has made GTE-Pro such a well-liked category.
After an early Ferrari-Porsche tussle, the order was shaken up by an FCY that also thrust Corvette into the mix. Calado emerged in the lead with Tandy second, although Fuoco dispatched the Brit to make it a Ferrari one-two. It was shaping up to be a perfect ending for the reigning champions, until Calado suddenly slowed with a malfunctioning gearbox.
Pier Guidi jumped in and carefully nursed the ailing car as his rivals streamed past. Fuoco and Molina went on to take an overdue victory from Tandy and Milner, while Porsche switched its cars around to give Estre and Christensen third. A sudden Ferrari retirement would have swung the title their way, but an irrepressible Pier Guidi soldiered on to the chequered flag and championship glory.
The final season of the GTE-Pro class contained everything you would expect from a category that has produced some of the WEC’s best racing over the last 10 years.
Factory teams from Ferrari, Porsche, Chevrolet, Aston Martin, Ford and BMW – plus the odd plucky privateer – left nothing on the table after each race as they battled for points and company pride.
Next year, Ferrari and Porsche will transfer their factory racing efforts to Hypercar. That signals the natural end of the road for GTE-Pro, but the standard of competition is sure to live on in the rejuvenated prototype ranks.
To read more from Daniel Lloyd visit Sportscar365.com, which provides extensive news coverage of the FIA World Endurance Championship, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and other leading sports car racing series from around the world.